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Sure-Fire Promos

NEIGHBORLY: Miami's Tarpon Bend Raw Bar & Grill has teamed with other businesses to build a buzz.

JUST A TASTE: Sommelier Emily Wines is building a loyal following for Fifth Floor.

FIESTA: Salsa and steak both sizzle at Brett McKee's Oak Steakhouse.

VROOM: Damon's wooed car racing fans with an extended auto-themed promotion.

POST-OPERA DRAMA: Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House provides a late-night haven for Denver opera goers.


Looking to give your business a lift? Sometimes it's not enough to turn out great food served by a well-trained staff. Sometimes it takes a well-executed promotion to make the difference, either by boosting traffic or exposing your restaurant to a new audience. Here are some dynamite ideas for doing just that.

Give some to get some. Tarpon Bend Raw Bar & Grill in Coral Gables was looking for a way to break out of the South Florida community's longstanding reputation as a place to buy a wedding gown. Today, contends Tarpon Bend GM Wayne Eldred, "it's by far one of the number-one South Florida destination spots for restaurants."

Eldred, working with neighboring restaurant City Cellars, hit on the idea of hosting a charity event in the breezeway shared by the two establishments. Together, they mounted Via 55, a monthly party to benefit a local charity. For a suggested minimum $10 donation, patrons receive two complimentary beverages, can donate more to order to order food from a specially designed menu and enjoy live jazz. Neighborhood merchants such as a jeweler, spa and chocolatier set up tables at the events, which are sponsored by an alcoholic beverage company.

Eldred says his restaurant doesn't necessarily profit from Via 55 per se, but that's not the point; the parties are designed to expose more potential customers to Tarpon Bend. With each donation, guests complete a form with contact information that goes into a database, "so we can tell if we're getting new clients," he says. It also provides a ready-made e-mail list for subsequent events.

Besides changing perceptions, the festivities have helped neighboring businesses bond.

"It's not about greed," Eldred says. ‘It's about how we can all succeed if we can work together."

Wise about wine? Share the knowledge. If you have a remarkable wine program, why not toot your own horn with wine tasting classes? That's what Fifth Floor, a San Francisco restaurant serving seasonal California-style cuisine, did when it created the Wines on Wine series, created and hosted by its own sommelier, Emily Wines.

Each $35 class explores the art of wine tasting for any level of enthusiast, from neophytes to long-time collectors. Taking advantage of the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning cellar, the monthly series has covered such topics as "Vive La France!" "Joy of Bubbly" and "Sensory Evaluation."

Since its launch in April 2006, Wines on Wine has exposed the restaurant and Lounge On Five—both on the fifth floor of the Palomar Hotel—to many new visitors who wind up staying for dinner or making reservations for a future date.

Get spicy. Charleston's Oak Steakhouse hosts a monthly salsa series (dancing, not sauce) that livens up the place with a high-energy clientele. Why salsa in a steakhouse? Chef/owner Brett McKee explains that he was inspired by the hit reality show, "Dancing with the Stars." The salsa nights feed off that popularity and give the restaurant's more conservative patrons an excuse to let their hair down. It also exposes the restaurant to new guests, to show them it's not a stuffy place.

The nights kick off with a salsa-inspired menu, including choices such as Grilled Marinated Flank Steak with Salsa en Croute and Coconut Panacotta with a Fresh Fruit Salsa. A number of Latininspired cocktails are offered.

At 10:30, with some strategic furniture rearranging, the place breaks into a lively scene. A Cuban jazz band fills the steakhouse with the sounds of acoustic bass, timbales, congas and bongos, and dancers line the mezzanine level. For the less confident, the restaurant brings in dance instructors to provide lessons.

McKee says revenues on salsa nights are dramatically higher. Not only are the dancers ordering food and drinks at the bar, "dinner sales go up because there are people who come in to get the perfect seat to watch the dancers," he explains.

Sign ‘em up. Juice It Up! celebrated the debut of its 100th location with a sweepstakes. Working with a logical tie-in, the action sports industry, the chain offered 100 prizes from Roxy, Etnies, Element and Hurley such as surfboards, wetsuits, skate decks and apparel packages.

The catch: To enter, a customer had to join Juice It Up!'s Smooth eClub online. The contest pushed the club's database from 2,000 to 8,000 members in one quarter.

The 100-plus-unit Damon's Grill tried a different kind of tiein—to the ever-popular NASCAR circuit. A Get in the Chase Stock Car Challenge drew thousands of visitors to the chain's website to choose the top three drivers during the 2006 national stock car season. Accurate picks earned points toward prizes such as a 50-inch HDTV and racing apparel. In the restaurants, guests had a frequency card punched for each visit on a race day Sunday. After the fourth visit, the guest received a free appetizer. The contest was publicized through table tents, banners and check presenters.

"We've historically been a destination for college and pro football and college basketball, but wanted to start building a NASCAR customer base also," says Jon Quinn, director of marketing for the chain. Comparing race day sales to the previous year's numbers and tracking the frequency card redemption rate, Quinn says the promotion yielded a five-percent increase in race day sales.

New life for a sleepy time. Slow Monday night? Luna Park in Los Angeles managed to liven things up a bit with its Starving Artist prix-fixe menu. For $18, guests can choose from an appetizer (Goat Cheese Fondue or Caesar Salad); an entre of Chicken Mole or Mac ‘n' Cheese; and Fried Apple Pie or S'mores for dessert.

Mondays also feature an all-night happy hour with $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons, $6 red or white wine, $6 mojitos and $6 sangria. Prizes in a business card (or head shot) drawing includes a gift certificate for head shot reproduction, a subscription to a trade magazine and a Luna Park gift certificate.

Within its first few months, Starving Artist night boosted Monday evening business by 10-15 percent.

Speaking of those gift certificates, Luna Park recently gave out wrapped free ones for a cocktail or appetizer the day after Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve. The idea was to ease the stress of holiday preparations and offer guests last-minute stocking stuffers; in reality, says owner A.J. Gilbert, "Gift certificates are great because when you give away a card that has a minimal amount of money—$10, or a fondue or s'mores— people have to come in to use it….that generates business on both sides."

Apres-opera option. Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House is giving Denverites a reason to linger downtown after opera performances. Last fall, the contemporary American restaurant started packaging live jazz and a lighter menu for opera patrons on a quest for a bite and a relaxing atmosphere.

Music comes from the Denver Jazz Quartet. The menu includes appetizers, entrees and desserts, with entree choices such as Black Angus Carpaccio with Fried Capers, White Truffle Oil and Olive Grissini ($19); and Dungeness Crab Avocado and Mango Terrine with Crisp Potatoes and Warm Vanilla Coconut Sauce ($18) paired with suggested wines. For dessert, options include Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Bre½lie with Fresh Winter Fruit and French Macaroons or Lemon Ice Box Pie with Toasted Meringue, Blueberry Compote and Homemade Graham Crackers (both $8).

Late night fare is served from 10:20, when the curtain falls at the opera, until midnight. "We rolled out this new option... without any advertising and had over 60 people in-house" the first weekend, says Mark Connolly, general manager and maitre'd.

Shucking all the way to the bank. Old Ebbitt Grill, a 150-year-old Washington, DC institution, has built a wildly popular event around one ingredient—oysters. The 525-seat saloon-style establishment hosts the annual Oyster Riot every November. During the two-day event, about 800 oyster aficionados scarf down as many oysters as they can (during the most recent two days, that figure was 50,000), washing them down with oyster-compatible wines and beer. It took all of seven hours to sell the 1,600 $80 tickets for the 2006 event last fall.

Old Ebbitt Grill's managing director David Moran views the annual Riot as a perfect way to kick off the oyster season, which coincides with the holiday entertaining season. The event, which has been held for 11 years, is always scheduled for the weekend preceding Thanksgiving and brings out guests ready to party and dressed to the nines. It's also an ideal setting to showcase the restaurant's commitment to serving the best oysters, which are never kept for more than 48 hours and are always freshly shucked. "You can tell the difference in something shucked freshly and correctly," Moran says.

People often ask if the Riot menu includes anything besides oysters. Nope. "We tell them, ‘that's why it's called the Oyster Riot,'" Moran says.

Celebrate your anniversary. Sandrine's Bistro in Cambridge, MA cooked up a whole year's worth of $10 bar menu offerings to mark its 10th anniversary in business. Throughout the year, monthly specials ranged from a $10 chocolate truffle trio with vintage port, to a $10 flammekeuche (Alsatian flatbread pizza), to a $10 wurst sampler. The final special was a $10 glass of champagne with an individual birthday cake.

Business in the bar has quadrupled since the $10 deals were launched. The deals were so popular that Sandrine's added them to the regular menu.

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